Rod Stewart told the crowd at the beginning of Wednesday’s Tel Aviv gig that it would last one hour and 40 minutes. Celtic’s most famous fan compared the length to a soccer match (90 minutes), adding it would be twice as entertaining.
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Twice as much? That depends on the game, it turns out. A great game? Probably not. Stewart only kept his promise for the “unplugged,” acoustic section, which was the most successful element of the show. It’s a shame it didn’t take up a longer part of the evening. The rest was OK and nothing more, and totally forgettable.
The word “showy” was the most apt. Stewart went for a clearly entertaining performance, making almost no effort to express any deep emotions. He sufficed with trying to stir more superficial, nostalgic emotions. Seven years ago, when he appeared at the city’s Nokia Arena, he managed a wonderful mix of these two styles. What enabled him to do so then was his voice. At 65, he sounded terrific. Now, though, it was disappointing to discover that, at 72, Stewart’s voice is no longer at its best. His hoarseness is less expressive, less elegant than it once was.
When his band went electric (and did so with a slightly engineered professionalism), he often struggled to project his voice to the front of the mix. Instead of his voice filling a great emotional space, he filled only a limited one. The rest was occupied by his too-dominant backup singers, as well as gimmicks such as line dancing with violins in the background, and short-skirted female singers and musicians.
Stewart was more impressive with a strong rendition of Tom Waits’ 1985 song “Downtown Train” (which Stewart covered in 1989). The improvement continued when Stewart, the singers and musicians sat on chairs and swapped their electric instruments for acoustic ones.
For the five unplugged songs, the “showy” element dipped and, most importantly, we could finally hear Stewart sing.
True, even during these moments his singing was not steeped in the deep emotion that used to burst forth from him. But it did cause a slight stirring of the old gravelly strings. The word “heart” stood out here, literally in the 1977 hit “You’re in my Heart,” but also in his 1975 classic “I Don’t Want to Talk About It.” Yet while this section had heart, there was still a dearth of soul to be found onstage.
It’s also a shame that Stewart sat on the knees of one of the young female backup singers toward the end of the acoustic segment. Why do they do that?
Apropos an older man with a young woman, but in a completely different context, my friend said to me at the start of the show: “If only Stewart would sing ‘Handbags and Gladrags,’ but he certainly won’t do it.” It is definitely one of his most beautiful songs – full of the softness and sadness of a father (or grandfather) looking at his young daughter (or granddaughter), and best known now as the theme song from the British version of “The Office.”
In the middle of the non-acoustic section, it was clear that this lovely song – which wasn’t a hit when Stewart recorded it in 1969 – had no place in a show based on the nostalgic entertainment Stewart had brought to Israel.
I thought during the acoustic segment that perhaps “Handbags” could work, but not really. Anyway, Stewart – joined by our very own Rita – had already sailed into the distance with “Sailing.”